Sleep, blessed sleep

sleep not foundFor quite a few years, I didn’t sleep well. In the year when I turned 50, I found myself waking up ridiculously early, often at 4:42 AM (What’s that all about, I ask you?). My doctor said that this kind of thing happens for men over 50, and not to worry about it, but …. if I really couldn’t sleep, he had a pill for me to take. It might be addictive, so he said, but a good night’s sleep was even more addictive.

Well,that worked for a number of years, right through my time of retirement. If I didn’t take the pill, I woke up in the middle of the night (4:42 again!), and couldn’t get back to sleep. Lack of sleep made me cranky, unfocused, and generally less than fully functional. So — I went on taking the pills right through my retirement. For all my time in Manitoba, my doctors renewed the prescription without question. I was officially diagnosed with anxiety, which may in fact have been the truth.

Then last year I retired and we moved back to Alberta, and we had to find new medical care. The doctors here looked at my 15-year history on this medication, and would not renew it. It was addictive! Ouch.

Last fall, I had to learn to sleep again, without the pharmaceutical aid I had relied upon for years. It was hard. For a while, I found myself waking up even earlier than in the early years — 3:30 AM was not uncommon. Sleep deprivation became the law of my life.

But things change. I found a different, non-addictive and non-prescription, chemical sleep aid. It has helped me learn to sleep better, and often to sleep undisturbed until 7 AM or later. That may not sound much to some people, but for most of my working life, I set the alarm for 6, to be at work by 8. Now… I don’t often have to up for anything much before 9. So sleeping later is a bonus, and more and more a blessing.

Sleep is a wonderful thing. Sleep deprivation is a curse. I have seen this in the lives of many people. Being able to sleep as much as one needs is a real blessing, and it is only in retirement that I have really been able to enjoy this.

Finding myself able to sleep so late (yes: 7:30 AM is late in my books!) is a real blessing. Realizing that I can, and often do, sleep this well, is one of the things that makes me realize that I may really be retired — in the best sense of the word.

Now… I invite you to listen to Eric Whitacre’s wonderful choral ode to sleep:

Did I have anxiety? Maybe, but you’d have to ask my wife to get the goods on that. What I do know is that I have let go of a lot of things in the past year, and I have realized that I have much less to be anxious about. I go for coffee after Sunday services, and enjoy the camaraderie of other parishioners. I look around the room and see our stipendiary clergy earnestly in conversation with people, and see the anxiety on their faces. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just the way the church order things, by putting heavy stress on a few “special” people. I wish for my colleagues that they may find the joy of SLEEP — blessed sleep, and may know the joy of knowing that God’s work does not depend entirely on them.

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Retired priest of the Anglican Church of Canada, living in Edmonton AB, and serving as an Honorary Assistant at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Old Strathcona.

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